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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020 and the large-scale civil unrest that followed, a national conversation about police use of force has been reignited. Across the country, members of the public are asking elected officials, police executives, and city and county leaders to reimagine the roles and functions of policing, public safety, and public trust.
The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) has developed a holistic approach to encourage de-escalation and reduce use of force and thereby to restore public trust. This holistic approach provides de-escalation training and resources as well as recognition to officers for exemplary tactics in de-escalation.
In 2007, the PPD began offering crisis intervention training (CIT) to officers who then became designated crisis intervention officers. As the PPD has continued to invest in and develop strategies that allow officers to respond safely and effectively to those in crisis, the department has expanded CIT and now offers a modified curriculum for all officers as well as for dispatchers.
Dispatchers are also provided with a mental health script to help them deal effectively with crisis calls. This not only enables them to provide critical information to officers so that they know what kind of situation awaits them but also offers dispatchers themselves strategies for de-escalating a crisis before the police get there.
CIT for 911 dispatchers began in November 2020 and has been completed by approximately 65 percent of Philadelphia 911 dispatchers. In addition to this training, service options have increased through the introduction of the co-responder program. Select CIT officers and civilian behavior health clinicians undergo an additional 80-hour program that largely comprises reality-based scenarios so that these individuals can learn how to handle persons in crises as a team. All members of the PPD’s Reality Based Training Unit have also received CIT training for the purpose of being able to create specialized reality scenarios to ensure their co-responding teams are fully prepared prior to hitting the streets. This work is coordinated by the PPD with their partners at the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS).
The PPD’s commitment to serving those in crisis is shown through the number of officers who continue to be trained and prepared for responding to such incidents.
Since 2007, approximately 3,500 Philadelphia police officers have undergone the PPD’s CIT training, as have more than 275 officers from surrounding jurisdictions. To meet increased demand for the training, the PPD has added additional classes every year.
A central aspect of this approach has been the renewed focus on de-escalation training for police officers.
The Reality-Based Training Unit has developed and delivered training focused on the core principles of de-escalation, crisis communication, and tactics. Reality-Based Training scenarios include situations in which officers intervene in use of excessive force, crisis intervention, and command/control situations. Reality-based training is refreshed annually, with new scenarios added regularly to keep up with evolving case law, local ordinances, and lessons learned from significant events.
The development of the de-escalation training program takes into account national research and training concepts such as the ICAT Critical Decision-Making Model. During this training, officers learn to use time and distance to de-escalate situations without creating risk to civilians or fellow officers.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw elevated the priority of this training under her crime reduction action plan and believes that department-wide recognition of officers who have successfully deescalated situations using these training techniques is critical to their adoption by all members of the PPD.
To recognize the accomplishments of these officers, thereby reinforcing and incentivizing the use of de-escalation tactics and CIT training, the PPD awards the Medal of Tactical De-escalation.
This medal was created in 2015, when then Commissioner Charles Ramsey worked with the PPD executive team to create it in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ report on the PPD. The practice of rewarding the effective use of de-escalation tactics with a medal has also recently been advocated for by the Council on Criminal Justice’s policy assessment on de-escalation policies and training. To date, the PPD Medal of Tactical De-escalation has been awarded to 138 officers who managed to preserve life in dangerous and difficult circumstances.
One of these acts involved two officers who used less-than-lethal methods to restrain a woman with a knife who had stated that she would kill anyone who got in the way of her planned suicide. Another award was issued to an officer who, knowing that the subject was a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, disarmed a man who had a loaded revolver and provided assistance by transporting him for mental health care.
These heroic acts, as well as the day-to-day professionalism and dedication of the PPD’s 6,600 sworn members and 800 civilian personnel are a source of pride to Commissioner Outlaw, who says, “Despite the challenges of conducting training under COVID restrictions, our department has had sizeable growth in numbers of Crisis Intervention Trained officers. There has also been substantial growth in our partnership with DBHIDS to better serve the needs of Philadelphians who suffer from mental health and behavioral health related crises. Going forward, we will continue to focus on implementing equitable strategies, especially those that are laser-focused on the goal of rebuilding a foundation of trust and relationships in the neighborhoods we serve.”
In April 2020, Officer Ne’Keea Halsey and her partner responded to a 911 call stating that a man was threatening to kill another man as well as himself. At the scene, the officers observed a man bleeding from a cut and standing next to a knife on the ground. As the officers approached, he produced a second knife and, putting it to his neck, stated, “Just shoot me, this is not working.” The officers pleaded with the man to put down the knife, and when he refused, Officer Halsey stated that she would deploy her Taser. The man then dropped the knife but produced a bottle of pills, which he threatened to swallow.
Officer Halsey kept the man distracted from his threat of self-harm by engaging him in a conversation, while her partner removed the pill bottle. The potentially deadly ordeal ended with the officers taking the man to an area hospital for emergency care and a mental health evaluation.
In June 2020, Officer Andrew Haenchen responded to a call stating that a person was armed with a firearm. On the scene, the officer was told that the subject was under the influence of PCP and had been walking around his house with a rifle. At the front door, Haenchen tried to speak with the subject while alerting his supervisor, who declared a barricade situation.
Approximately 30 minutes later, the subject came out of the house peacefully and spoke to Officer Haenchen. The police then recovered an AR-15 rifle loaded with 29 live rounds, as well as a crossbow, from the house. The subject was then taken to a hospital for a mental health commitment.
Acknowledgement for outstanding acts of service, such as Officer Halsey’s and Officer Haenchen’s life-saving efforts, is an important way for the PPD to recognize those who have put themselves in harm’s way in the service of others. The PPD’s Medal of Tactical De-escalation recognizes the very best in policing and presents it as a model for others to emulate.
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
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